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Scams

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Scammers are using a variety of methods tied to COVID-19 economic impact payments to target consumers

The New York State Division of Consumer Protection (DCP) is alerting consumers on Jan. 6 about scammers taking advantage of COVID-19 economic stimulus payments. With another round of economic stimulus payments approved by Congress, scammers will be sending phishing emails, texts and phone calls and using social media to try to steal economic impact payments and your personal information. Consumers are reminded that it’s important to stay vigilant and aware of unsolicited communications asking for your personal or private information.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, scammers have been hard at work trying to steal money from unsuspecting New Yorkers,” said Secretary of State Rossana Rosado. “With this latest round of stimulus funding on its way, I urge all New Yorkers to be extra diligent and follow simple steps to keep your money and personal identity safe.”

New York State Commissioner of Taxation and Finance Michael Schmidt said, “We all must remain especially vigilant against scam artists trying to steal this latest round of stimulus funding from New Yorkers. We’re sharing valuable information so you can learn how to spot red flags and where to find reliable information so you won’t be caught off guard by con artists.”

New York State Office of Information Technology Services Chief Information Officer Angelo “Tony” Riddick said, “New Yorkers are being challenged like never before by a global pandemic, and to make matters worse, we’ve seen unscrupulous individuals use technology in a desperate and dishonest attempt to scam them out of their own money. Fortunately, New Yorkers can protect themselves against these COVID-related scams if they are armed with the right information. Always be wary of unsolicited phone calls, texts, emails, links or attachments, even if the sender appears to be known. And, never send your personal information via email or text.”

What You Need to Know about Economic Impact Payments
On December 27, 2020, the federal government passed a pandemic relief package. An important component of individual relief, Economic Impact Payments, will be issued to New Yorkers from the IRS.

You don’t need to take any action to automatically receive your stimulus payment if you:

  • filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return and are eligible; or
  • received one of these benefits (unless claiming a qualifying child under age 17):
      • – Social Security retirement benefits and survivor benefits
      • – Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and survivor benefits
      • – Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits
      • – Railroad Retirement and survivor benefits
      – Veterans Administration compensation (disability, death benefits etc.) or retirement benefits

While most people will receive their payment automatically, if you otherwise have not filed taxes recently, you may need to submit a simple Federal tax return to get your check. For more information on the Economic Impact Payments, New Yorkers should visit the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance at Economic Impact Payment information: what you need to know or the IRS at Economic Impact Payments.

Below are tips to help keep your economic impact payment and personal information safe from scammers:

  • Rely on trusted sites for information. Visit legitimate, government websites—for up-to-date, fact-based information about COVID-19. Visit the IRS website directly for the latest information on the economic impact payments. Remember, the government will never call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number.
  • Delete emails asking you for personal information to receive an economic stimulus check. Government agencies are not sending unsolicited emails seeking your private information in order to send you money.
  • Avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails and be wary of email attachments. See Using Caution with Email Attachments and Avoiding Social Engineering and Phishing Scams for more information.
  • Don’t provide personal or banking information. Scammers may ask by phone, email, text or social media for verification of personal and/or banking information saying that the information is needed to receive or speed up your economic impact payment.
  • Do not agree to sign over your economic impact payment check. Scammers may ask you to sign over your stimulus payment check to them.
  • Be wary of bogus checks. Scammers may mail you a bogus check, perhaps in an odd amount, then tell the taxpayer to call a number or verify information online in order to cash it.
  • Do not cash unsolicited checks. Scammers use this tactic to get your bank account information, and you will incur fees when the check is found to be insufficient.
  • Be aware that scammers are also able to replicate a government agency’s name and phone number on caller ID. It’s important to remember that the IRS will never ask you for your personal information or threaten your benefits by phone call, email, text or social media.
  • Hang up on illegal robocallers. If you receive a call about economic impact payment scams, hang up. Don’t press any numbers. The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it might lead to more robocalls, instead.
  • Notify the IRS if you are contacted by a potential scammer. If you receive an unsolicited email, text or social media attempt that appears to be from the IRS or an organization associated with the IRS, like the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, notify the IRS at [email protected].
  • Verify a charity’s authenticity before making donations. Review the Federal Trade Commission’s page on Charity Scams for more information.
  • Review CISA Insights on Risk Management for COVID-19 for more information.

With assistance from ITS, the Department of Health continues to maintain up-to-date “Stay Cyber Safe” tips and active warnings at https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/stay-cyber-safe.

The New York State Division of Consumer Protection serves to educate, assist and empower the State’s consumers. For more consumer protection information, call the DCP Helpline at 800-697-1220, Monday through Friday, 8:30am-4:30pm or visit the DCP website at www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection. The Division can also be reached via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.

-Information provided by the New York State Division of Consumer Protection

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The money police said a St. James man sent to St. Louis as part of a phone scam. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County Police worked in conjunction with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to intercept cash sent by a St. James man as part of a phone scam.

Police said a 79-year-old man received a phone call April 8 from an individual who claimed the man’s grandson had been involved in a motor vehicle crash and subsequently arrested. The caller said the victim needed to send $9,500 in cash to an address in St. Louis to be utilized for his grandson’s bail.

This kind of scam has been used before, where scammers pretend to be a family member needing cash for bail. Scammers often use social media to get facts about the person before calling up family members, usually the grandparents.

The man, who sent the cash via USPS, then spoke with his grandson and determined the call was a scam and called police. Financial Crimes Unit detectives contacted officials at the New York office of the Postal Inspection Service who then contacted officials in the St. Louis office. Postal inspectors intercepted the package prior to delivery and turned over the cash to detectives April 14 to be returned to the victim.

“I would like to commend the efforts of the Financial Crimes Unit detectives who kept an innocent victim’s money from making its way into the hands of a scammer — a result that is not always easy,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said. “We would like to remind people to be alert to scams such as this one, as well as those involving the IRS, Social Security and utility companies. It is also important to be aware of emerging scams relating to COVID-19.”

For more information on scams, visit www.suffolkpd.org.

Officials train residents on how to avoid being taken

Phone scams are on the rise, and officials say these and other scams are targeting the senior population.

Local government representatives emphasize that the elderly need to be better informed about what to look out for and how to avoid them.

On Aug. 20, at the Huntington Senior Center, state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport),Town of Huntington Receiver of Taxes Jillian Guthman and state attorney general representative T.J. Hatter held a Smart Seniors event. Together they cautioned seniors against handing over large sums of money through phone, email, letter and internet scams. 

“These scammers will use fear if they think that will work, they will use kindness and they will use intimidation,” Hatter said. “The important thing is to please do not send these people your money. It is very hard to get it back once it is gone.” 

One of the most common scams targeting the senior population includes the sweepstakes scam, which requests the “winner” to send a check or wire money to cover taxes for their prize. Another one is where the scammer will act as a relative, such as a grandchild, and claim to be in danger. Sometimes, the scammer acts as a lawyer or police officer. In each case, they ask for money immediately. 

“There are two approaches to dealing with these types of scams,” Hatter said. “Ask for the person’s name and a call-back number.” He also recommends answering the phone only if you recognize the number as a friend or a loved one. “Let everyone else leave you a message,” he said. 

“The important thing is to please do not send these people your money. It is very hard to get it back once it is gone.”

— T.J Hatter

Hatter said the scammers are often out-of-the country and can’t be traced. 

“These scammers are using something called routing technology,” he said. “The idea is to make the number they are calling from have a ‘631’ or ‘516’ area code to make it look more local and make it more likely someone will answer.”

According to Suffolk County officials, in 2018, there were 68 phone scam incidents reported, targeting the elderly and non-English speakers. Of the 68 victims, 40 were elderly, as reported in a January 2019 TBR News Media article. Between 2017 and 2018, the largest amount of money taken in once incident was $800,000, according to Suffolk County police. 

In 2019, nearly half of all calls to mobile phones will be scammers looking to fraudulently gain access to financial information, according to a report from telecommunications firm First Orion. 

One of the latest scams to target seniors urges them to purchase gift cards to help a relative in trouble. 

“We are finding that [scammers] are asking for those prepaid gift cards and then they will ask you to scratch off the back and read them the numbers,” he said. “That’s the most common one we are finding right now.” 

Home improvement scams are also common and often offer “free inspections.” The inspections will almost always find a problem that requires an expensive solution.

“Someone will knock on your door and say they are a repair person and ask if something is wrong with your home,” Hatter said. “They will say they can fix it and even offer you a discounted rate. Do not pay this person.” 

Hatter said ultimately you hold the power so if you are not sure that you recognize the caller, you are not forced to answer the phone. 

The Office of the Attorney General urges people to use strong passwords and avoid using birth dates, Social Security numbers and mother’s maiden names in them.

If you shop online, be sure the sites you use are secure. A secure site will start with https:// and most use a padlock icon, which will tell you the name of the owner. Also, use only credit card rather than debit or check cards.

“Debit cards, even those with a credit card name and logo, do not carry the same protections,” the Smart Seniors program states. If credit card information is stolen, you are only liable for $50 in fraudulent charges. If your debit card information is stolen and the thief wipes out your bank account, the money is gone. 

It’s also important to remember that email scammers often masquerade as a familiar and trustworthy company, such as your bank, online store or credit card company. Sometimes they pretend to be a government agency. These scammers are “phishing” for personal data and often claim that there’s a problem with your account. Do not click on a link no matter who they claim to be. You may be directed to a bogus, look-alike website that spoofs a real company. 

“The key to the phishing scams is that they ask you to provide personal information, such as your Social Security number or password, so they can “confirm your identity,” the program warns. 

“If you get a call, text or email from a company claiming there’s a problem do not respond,” the Attorney General’s Office states. Instead delete the message or hang up, and contact the company yourself. It’s important to protect your personal information. Papers should be shredded before you throw them away. 

New Yorkers donate more than $10 billion to charitable organizations each year, with older New Yorkers being the most generous, the Attorney General’s Office states. It is suggested that you confirm that a charity is registered with the Attorney General’s Office, as required by law and find out if the funds will be used for programs, administrative costs and fundraising. Avoid charities that will not answer questions about its programs and finances. 

Residents can greatly reduce the number of unsolicited calls, mailings and internet offerings they receive. The National Do Not Call Registry can be reached at 800-382-1222. You can place your landline and your mobile number on the Do Not Call List. Registration never expires. Political organizations, charities and telephone surveyors are still permitted. 

Patricia Wagner, a Huntington resident who attended the session, said she was grateful. 

“This was really informative and I’m going to share this information with my friends [who are not here],” she said. “We are getting older … we need an event like this every year.” 

County Executive Steve Bellone, center, SCPD Commissioner Geraldine Hart, left, and Chief of Department Stuart Cameron, right. File photo

By David Luces

Suffolk County police and elected representatives are saying if you think the person on the other end of a phone call may be a scam, hang up as quickly as possible and call the authorities.

According to Suffolk County officials, 2018 has seen a steady increase of telephone and digital scams, especially those targeting the elderly and non-English speakers. In 2018, there were 68 incidents reported, and the largest amount of money taken was $800,000 between 2017 and 2018. Of the 68 victims, 40 were elderly. 

“Simply put, this is the 21st century definition of highway robbery.”

— Steve Bellone

In 2019, nearly half of all calls to mobile phones will be scammers looking to fraudulent gain access to financial information, according to a report from telecommunications firm First Orion.

At a press conference Jan. 4, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said the trend is alarming.

“Simply put, this is the 21st century definition of highway robbery,” Bellone said. “These scammers are targeting a vulnerable group of people.”

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the median loss people experienced from a phone-based scam in 2017 was $720. 

Bellone said thieves will sometimes call victims using an automated message to demand money or threaten to call the local authorities. 

“Our message to the public is to not give personal financial information when someone is calling you over the phone,” Bellone said. 

Suffolk County Police Department chief  Stuart Cameron said these scammers call threatening to stop certain utilities, claiming bills were unpaid. With tax season close by, Cameron cautioned the public to be on the lookout for scams mentioning the IRS as well.  

“They also call claiming a relative is seriously injured or in danger,” the chief said.

It is difficult to hold these scammers accountable because most are either out of state or out of the country and are using technology to mask their identity. 

Cameron said payment is usually requested through gift cards. 

“No government agencies are going to ask for gift cards,” Cameron said. “If you get a call like this, call law enforcement.”

Bellone mentioned that many of these crimes go unreported because victims feel embarrassed or simply ignore the calls. 

“We are trying to do everything we can to protect residents from these scams,” the county executive said. 

“In every case we are going to tell people if they are utilizing an app like LetGo to please do it in a public place, meet in daylight hours and don’t go by yourself.”

— Geraldine Hart

At the press conference Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart also informed the public on five robberies — one as recent as New Year’s Eve — involving the LetGo app, a digital marketplace that allows users to buy and sells items locally on their phones. 

Four out of the five robberies involved meeting up to purchase an iPhone, according to Hart. 

“In every case we are going to tell people if they are utilizing an app like LetGo to please do it in a public place, meet in daylight hours and don’t go by yourself,” Hart said. “Make sure you can verify the seller.”

A majority of the robberies occurred in the Mastic Beach area beginning in August 2018. During that month, a victim arranged to sell a cellphone to someone outside a home in Mastic Beach at 10 p.m. The suspect took the phone and told the victim he would return. The suspect fled into the backyard and never returned with the money.

On Nov. 30, a suspect and a victim agreed to meet to sell an iPhone. The suspect showed an iPhone in a box and the victim gave him $400. The suspect told the victim he had to get a SIM card and fled through a backyard and onto an adjacent street. 

The most recent incident occurred at the Mastic-Shirley train station. The victim gave the suspect money and was pushed to the ground. When the victim attempted to follow the suspect, a second man threatened to shoot him.  

 “Thankfully no one was seriously injured,” Hart said. 

The suspects involved appear to be connected to all five robberies and got away with several thousand dollars. 

Officials said if residents have information on phone scams and the robberies to call 800-220-TIPS (8477).